A legal battle over the use of powerful sonar, and explosives in naval exercises has ended with the US Navy agreeing to limit their future use in any training to avoid potential harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals off Hawaii and California.
The decision comes after the US fisheries service was legally challenged by environmental groups in 2013 for allowing this kind of military activity.
Whales and dolphins use sound to communicate, navigate and find food. Loud noise from explosives and high frequency sonar can cause them to strand on coastlines, and even kill them.
Under the agreement, the US Navy will limit the use of explosives and sonar in certain sensitive areas. They can not use sonar in Southern California habitat for beaked whales between Santa Catalina Island and San Nicolas Island. Sonar also is not allowed in blue whale feeding areas near San Diego.
The US Navy has estimated it could inadvertently kill 155 whales and dolphins off Hawaii and Southern California, mostly from explosives, and that it could cause more than 11,000 serious injuries off the East Coast and 2,000 off Hawaii and Southern California.
The effects of noise pollution on whales and dolphins has been a major concern for some time, and the findings of an official investigation into the UK’s largest common dolphin stranding stated the most probable cause of the event were naval exercises in the area at the time.